Children younger than 5 years of age – especially those younger than 2 years old – are at high risk of serious flu-related complications.
Complications from the flu among children in this age group can include pneumonia (an illness where the lungs get infected and inflamed), dehydration (when a child’s body loses too much water and salts, often from not drinking enough fluids/liquids), worsening of long-term medical problems like heart disease or asthma, encephalopathy (inflammation of the brain), sinus problems and ear infections. In rare cases, flu complications can lead to death.
To help prevent flu, CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a yearly flu vaccine. Getting a yearly vaccine is especially important for young children because they are at increased risk of getting severe illness from flu.
Children Younger Than 6 Months at Highest Risk
Children younger than 6 months are at high risk of serious flu complications but are too young to get a flu vaccine. Children younger than 6 months have the highest risk for being hospitalized from flu compared to children of other ages. Because children younger than 6 months cannot get a vaccine, protecting them from influenza is especially important. This fact sheet provides advice to help caregivers (for example, parents, teachers, babysitters, nannies) protect young children from the flu.
Advice on How to Prevent Flu for Caregivers of Young Children
1. Take Time to Get a Vaccine
- A flu vaccine is the first and best way to protect against the flu.
- If the child you care for is 6 months or older, they should get a flu vaccine each year.
- Infants younger than 6 months are at high risk for serious flu-related complications, but cannot get a vaccine.
- As a caregiver to a young child, you should get a flu vaccine, and make sure that other caregivers and household members also get vaccinated each year. By getting vaccinated, you will be less likely to get the flu and therefore less likely to spread the flu to the child.
2. Take Everyday Preventive Actions
Certain everyday preventive actions – like covering your cough and frequent hand washing – can help keep germs from spreading.
Protect yourself and your infant by routinely taking these actions:
- Keep yourself and the child in your care away from people who are sick as much as you can.
- If you get the flu or flu symptoms, avoid contact with other people, including the child in your care, so that you don’t make them sick.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze—throw the tissue away after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. If you are not near water, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
- Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs often spread this way.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, especially when someone is ill.
3. Antiviral Drugs Can Treat Flu Illness
- Antiviral drugs are available to treat flu in children and adults.Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics. They are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaled powder).
- Antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They also may prevent serious flu complications.
- Treating people who are very sick with flu or who have a high-risk factor with flu antiviral drugs can mean the difference between having a milder illness versus a very serious illness that could result in a hospital stay.
- CDC recommends that people at high risk of serious flu complications be treated with flu antiviral drugs if they get sick with flu. Children can take two of the approved antiviral drugs.
- Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatment when they are started within 2 days of getting sick, but starting them later can still be helpful, especially if the sick person has a high-risk health condition or is very sick from the flu. Follow your doctor’s instructions for taking these drugs.
- Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Some people also may have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.